Reviving Afghan fashion, one stitch at a time

Wed Aug 5, 2009 12:22am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

KABUL (Reuters Life!) - Tweaking folds of black and gold silk, Zolaykha Sherzad frowns. Reinventing a country known for burqa-clad women as a source of high-end fashion means getting every stitch right and something is not perfect with a dress.

Her pared-down modern take on traditional Afghan fabrics and designs already draws a steady stream of politicians, diplomats, businesswomen, and even the odd tourist, to her atelier and shop in a lush traditional courtyard in the heart of Kabul.

But Sherzad, an Afghan who fled three decades ago to escape unrest that has dragged on intermittently ever since, has more ambitious goals for a business that now employs nearly 50 people and is fuelling a revival in weaving and embroidery.

"We are launching the line at boutiques in London, Dubai, Paris and New York," she told Reuters, below walls hung with the bright silk "chapan" jackets that are a major inspiration.

The rails between them are packed with wool and embroidered silk jackets, gossamer-thin shirts and dresses embellished with the calligraphy of a top Afghan artist.

"The local market is fragile, if something happens people leave," she says, a real risk in a country where violence has surged to its highest levels since the 2001 overthrow of the austere Taliban regime by U.S. and Afghan-led forces.

Under the hardline Islamists, Zarif -- a fashion venture with a female boss -- would have been inconceivable. Women were banned from working and prescriptions on their clothing went beyond the all-enveloping burqa, to cover the type and color of shoes.

Even now operating in the impoverished capital of a country at war brings unusual challenges.   Continued...